McDermott looking for Rhinos riposte
Coach Brian McDermott is relying on the spirit of his Leeds Rhinos players to help try and put them back on the right track at Warrington Wolves tomorrow night.
The defending champions are faltering badly in their bid to retain their title - currently sitting outside the play-off places in ninth after last weekend’s 50-6 home drubbing by Wigan Warriors.
It is understandable, therefore, that a trip to second-placed Warrington would not be at the top of their list of ideal follow-up fixtures, but McDermott can at least count on the experience of his players to shine through.
Champions in four of the last five seasons, the Rhinos are no strangers to doing it tough and last year won the competition from fifth place.
And, with that in mind, McDermott wants them to display their unity when they head to the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
“It was tough last week against a white-hot Wigan side and we did not help ourselves at times,” he said.
“However, we have looked at that game early in the week and our focus has been on Warrington since then. We have a determined group of people who have been through some tough times together in the past.
“I have no doubt they will stick together, but Warrington present us with an immediate challenge to get ourselves back up to the level of performance we know we are capable of.”
McDermott’s situation has not been helped by the loss of England international half-back Danny McGuire to an abductor injury - rookie Stevie Ward replaces him in the squad - but in a week when his players have been questioned by chief executive Gary Hetherington, the coach is happy to make changes.
“We are without Danny so that is an enforced change, however we will make a couple of others as well,” he said.
“Stevie Ward will be involved. He played a couple of games earlier in the season and the time is right to give him another opportunity as he is an exciting player from our academy.”
One man who is reading little into the Rhinos’ current troubles is Warrington coach Tony Smith.
The Australian led Leeds to the first two of their five Stobart Super League crowns, with McDermott as his assistant for the first of them.
“There’s too much focus placed on coaches. They are in there working as hard for their players as they can, but it’s about the whole group working hard,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“You have some good times and some bad times, but it’s strength of character that pulls you through.
“Knowing Brian as well as I do, as well as most of their players, they will be fighting and working hard. It is a group effort.”
In tomorrow night’s other game, St Helens play host to Bradford Bulls, looking to emerge from the pack of clubs chasing Wigan and Warrington at the top.
A heavy Magic Weekend loss to the Warriors and a draw at Hull FC last weekend has left the Saints back in sixth place.
They handed new deals to rising stars Carl Foster and Jamie Jones today, and have welcomed Anthony Laffranchi and Francis Meli back into their squad after injury.
And for coach Mike Rush, now the time is right to start putting a run of form together, with Bradford the ideal opponents seeing as they are one of the sides jostling them for position.
“It’s one of those seasons where teams are beating each other and you can’t take anything for granted,” he told the BBC.
“Wigan are in a rich vein of form at the minute, but with Warrington getting beaten, Huddersfield Giants having lost a few and Catalan Dragons too, it squeezes everybody back into the pack.
“We’ve still got to play those three teams and some of the teams around us, starting with Bradford.”